I have been thinking about writing this post for months. I kept not writing it because it seemed too controversial and it wasn’t my country. I also worried that maybe I wouldn’t be able to explain myself well enough and people would not fully understand my perspective and jump to conclusions about my beliefs or about me. But it has been months and it is still nagging in the back of my mind. Also every time I see a friend on Facebook post about voting ‘no’ it hurts my heart. So I guess I’m going to write it.
(Also, while this is sort of prompted by the vote in Australia and I write it in a sort of response to that, it is by no means directed only at Australians who voted ‘no’. I would direct it at an christians who hold the belief that gay marriage should be illegal, I know that there are plenty of them here in Canada too.)
If I lived in Australia I would have voted yes in the plebiscite. Here’s why.
First off, to me this is a civil liberties issue, not a religious preference issue. This is a vote to decide whether or not the government will recognize and allow same-sex marriage, not a vote to decide whether or not the church will allow and recognize same-sex marriage. The church and the state are separate.
In my mind, this is a significant distinction. It is not a question of whether or not the church thinks that a person can be in a same-sex relationship and be christian in good standing. It is a question of whether or not LGBT people in a secular society deserve the same civil rights and liberties as straight people.
I have seen quite a few Facebook posts and videos and other such things with the “It’s okay to vote no” slogan. I have watched a few of those videos and read a few of those posts and the resounding message that seemed to be being shared was “I’m voting no because Jesus loves you.” I’m having a hard time believing that is true.
Please bear in mind that we have already established that this is not a church-condoning vote, but a secular state-condoning vote. I would like to first bring to your attention 1 Corinthians 5. I would encourage you to read the whole chapter. It was written by Paul and in this chapter he is addressing sexual immorality in the Corinthian church. I am most interested in verses 9-12. Specifically verse 12, which says “ What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” If you read the whole chapter he sets a very clear distinction between how you are supposed to treat those outside the church as opposed to those inside the church. If someone is not a christian, why are you trying to hold them to your christian standards? This is the “you can’t have a doughnut because I am on a diet” argument at its worst.
Secondly, I would like to bring up the issue of laws themselves. The bible makes it clear that following rules is not what saves us or makes us holy (Galatians 3:11 “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”). Instead, the law shows us that we are sinful (Romans 3:20 “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” / Romans 7:7 “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'”). But we are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”).
You know who got caught up in making rules and made their religion into a legalistic mass of laws people had to follow to be saved? The Pharisees.
Let me share a small personal anecdote. A few years ago I was working at a christian summer camp. That summer we were specifically trying to deal with an ongoing modesty issue we had. And by modesty issue, I mean that there was a widely held assumption that the women were responsible for preventing men from stumbling and an unwritten expectation that they would wear t-shirts at all times over their bathing suits. We recognized that this was an issue. That, first of all, we were making a man’s issue (lust) into a woman’s problem. Also that there was this perpetuated t-shirt rule. “How can we fix this?” we thought. “I know,” someone suggested, “why don’t we just make everyone wear t-shirts over their bathing suits?” Then everyone would be under the rule and it wouldn’t be unequally targeting women. I can’t remember for sure if the someone who suggested it was me, I think it was, but I might have just jumped right up on board with someone else’s suggestion. I can’t remember for sure. All I know is that I legitimately thought it would solve the problem. And guess what, it didn’t. Not at all.
The rule, while made from a good intentions and a real intent to address the issue of the modesty double standard, just made things worse. People, men especially, revolted. We were called legalistic and really took a thrashing over it. Here’s what I learned. Rules don’t address motives, they only address action. Guess what Jesus said over and over in the Sermon on the Mount, “I don’t care about actions, I care about motives.” Okay, that’s a paraphrase, but I think it is accurate. So many of the statements follow the same structure, ‘You have heard this rule, but I tell you that what is going on in your heart matters more.’ It is not about whether or not you murder, it is about whether or not you hate. It is not about whether or not you cheat on your wife, it is about whether you lust.
Addressing the motive is much harder. It means you actually have to talk to people, you have to ask them what they are thinking and feeling and why they chose to act the way they did. It means that you have to take time to understand where they are coming from and how they are interpreting the bible verses you are talking about. To start actually fixing the modesty problem we had to scrap the rule that addressed the action and start dealing with the motive. We had to start talking about lust, about rape culture, and about how this problem has been perpetuated. We had to deal with problems on a case-by-case basis and be willing to take the time to have conversations with people when problems came up. It is much harder than simply implementing a rule. But these interactions now addressed the heart. These kinds of interactions forced discussion and a real examination of motives. Real change could actually take place because both sides were involved in the discussion and worked together to find a solution.
So guess what, forcing people to follow a “no gay marriage” rule will not make them holy. It addresses only an action. Not a motive. Change has to come from inside. It has to be a choice. Submitting your actions to a rule means nothing. You do not have to believe a rule is right to follow it. Also, as I learned from the t-shirt fiasco, even if you make a rule from a good place with good intentions to accomplish something good, as soon as you force someone to follow it, all the good is gone. And on top of that, the people you are forcing to follow your rule will only end up resenting it and you. From my experience they will be even less likely to arrive at the place you intended when you made the rule.
The thing that makes the gospel stand apart and matter is the choice. You cannot demand that someone be holy. It does not work that way.
I understand that many of the people who voted no interpret and believe that homosexuality is a sin. But it being a sin does not give you the right to take away someone’s choice. Also, somehow the church has decided that it is a sin above other sins. Why is no one lobbying the government to have adultery made illegal? What about lying? What about pride? I seem to remember the bible having a lot more to say about pride than about homosexuality. Part of being a christian, and just being a human, is choice. We are given the free will to choose how we think, and act, and believe. Yes, things get more complicated when our choices and actions harm others. That is where our secular laws come in. I have a very hard time seeing how being LGBT harms others any more than dishonesty, and pride, and hatred, and selfishness does. But the church seems much less concerned with those things. Which again, does not line up with the bible I have read.
I will respond to some of the arguments that I have heard and that I imagine people might bring to this. Please lets just pretend that the “same-sex marriage devalues marriage for the rest of us” argument doesn’t exist. Because obviously if you are a christian who is married, you marriage is sacred because it is a convenant before God and if the government issuing a piece of paper to a same-sex couple can devalue that, you clearly have much bigger problems. Lets also not do the thing where we say that it will corrupt our children because I see lust, pride, dishonesty, and selfishness harming and corrupting just as many children and, again, no one is lining up to make those things illegal or expel those people from the church. If you really want to protect the children from sin, lets really address sin, not just pick out the few sins we deem as the worst.
The only decent argument I can think of is that someone could make the case that if same-sex marriage is legalized there could come a time when a church or pastor could be faced with discrimination charges for refusing to marry a same-sex couple. I can see where you are coming from if this is your concern. But I do not think that is a valid reason to vote no. You would deny someone their basic civil rights because there is a chance in the future you might be faced with some persecution? I get that this could put someone in the position where they may have to take a stand for their faith. Where they might have to decide whether to perform the marriage or to face the discrimination charges. But that is the issue, not the government recognizing same-sex marriage. Voting ‘no’ now so that no one is put in that position later is a decision based on fear. From my perspective that is not standing up for your faith. That is denying someone else their freedom so that you might not have to stand up for your faith later. Meanwhile, real people are being denied things that you take for granted as a straight person. Things like medical benefits, pensions, and even the right to hospital visitation and ability to make medical decisions for their partner.
I cannot see how refusing these basic rights to a couple because their relationship doesn’t line up with your religion is a loving act. And I cannot see how you can think that forcing a rule on people will show them God’s love.
I know it’s easier to just make a rule now so that you don’t have to be uncomfortable in the future. And free will is hard. It means that people have to be allowed to choose good or evil. If you are struggling with this issue, or even if you are sure you have it figured out, I would encourage you to ask yourself some questions. Are you really loving people? Are you really following what the bible says? Are you trying to solve a problem with a rule? Is your decision based on fear? Are you making your decision because it is what you feel like you are supposed to decided as a christian? Or have you taken the time to really decide for yourself what you believe?
I obviously can’t answer these questions for you. That is up to you. I just wanted to present my thoughts to (1) perhaps show a side you have not heard before and (2) show people who might share my beliefs that they are not alone. You are more than entitled to your own free will and your right to make your own choice. I just know that in my head I have a hard time logically reasoning a ‘no’ vote and in my heart I struggle to see how it shows the love of Christ.
(I have tried to write this in a respectful “I am just presenting my beliefs and not attacking yours” way. Is there a chance I got something wrong? Of course. But if you try to fight with me in the comments I probably just won’t answer. If you want to ask questions or try to further understand where I am coming from or respectfully point out something I may have overlooked, feel free.)